Sunday, September 6, 2009

Magic Fingers

L'Annulaire (The Ring Finger)(2005)Directed By Diane Bertrand
Right from the start “L’Annulaire (The Ring Finger)” has two things going for it. 1. Olga Kurylenko (the gorgeous Bond girl from the awful "Quantum of Solace"). 2. A great soundtrack by Beth Gibbons of Portishead.
As it opens a woman named Iris works in a lemonade bottling factory and through an accident loses the tip of her Ring Finger. Next we see her in Amsterdam looking for work on the docks where is she abruptly told by a sailor that the work is too difficult for her. She finds an apartment which already has a tenant, a sailor who works nights. Since she works during the day, they are able to share the space without meeting (save through glances from across the water). She finds work on a small island with an enigmatic “doctor” who specializes in eternally preserving whatever objects are brought to him. The company is "Eternal Sunshine Of Spotless Mind’s" Lacuna Inc. in reverse, he preserves that which people would rather forget, but can't. Instead of erasing their patient’s painful memories, they displace them. As the doctor says, "Most of our clients never come back.", and "People don’t bring things here they want to remember with growing nostalgia, they come here because we provide separation, distance, and closure". One woman for instance has mushrooms preserved because they grew out of the ashes of her burned down house, and represent everything she has lost. Another woman wants the music preserved to a song an ex lover wrote about her.The clients have no idea if their items are being preserved as most “do not return”, but the preservation of their symbolic mementos provides an imaginary release. Another way this fetish asserts itself is in a pair of Red Shoes, the doctor gives as gift to Iris on condition she always wear them, “even when you’re not here, or in your room, or I won’t see you”. Again it’s the same split; I very well know I won’t see you, but I need to participate you in me imagining you this way. The shoes are the focal point of conversation between her and a patron who has spent his life as a shoe sinner, and insists the shoes fit her too well, “there is no space between you and the shoes, which means the shoes are taking over….and if you don’t take them off you might never be able to."The doctor and Iris slowly form a relationship, akin to “Secretary”. They are a two person office, and he is a quiet, eccentric, serious, and introverted boss (Marc Barbenot of "Sombre"), and she is his solemn, introverted, wounded but determined young assistant.Their relationship feels unnatural, since he never shows emotion and she only responds and never acts. She passively accepts his advances. Her uncertainty in their relationship is symbolized by her asking if she can see the inside of his "laboratory”, a place he allows no no one access. She spends her days having tea and delicately “reassuring” customers or shuffling through the archives of “specimens”; the private artifacts sealed in amber bottles like the medical and animal oddities at a freak show. There is also a lingering question as to who the other secretaries (all young girls) were and why they left, suddenly and without ever returning. It’s also up in the air as to whether this subject is important to Iris out of jealously or fear of the more ominous implications of “disappearance”. Visually “The Ringer Finger” uses “space” and “distance” betweens its objects and mis en scene to stand in contrast to the sudden close up scenes of inexplicable sensuality and nearness. This is identical to, but here used more softly than, David Cronenberg’s “Crash”. It is as if the distance between things that calls for the eruption of their over-proximity. The patrons are able to preserve and paradoxically make closer and clearer the memories associated with their mementos by symbolically separating from them. This way the memory can be preserved in the object itself, but will also never by disturbed by the ageing and deteriorating of being able to see the object, unless they want it to.Likewise the relationship between Iris and the doctor doesn’t seem logical and feels unnatural, because it is also a fetishistic internal displacement of sensuality in its most objectified form. Their sexual encounters are never discussed and kept in an imaginary space, unspoken but acknowledged between the two. A young boy and an old woman appear as phantom mirror images of Iris and the doctor. Though other people live in the apartments above the office, these two seem to appear and reappear at will. These vanishings seem to startle Iris, but this too goes unmentioned. In fact Iris is only aware of them being present half the time they are in frame. Did I mention there is a heat wave in the city and no air conditioning in the office, which serves as a convenient plot device that allows for plenty of repeated shots of the nape of Iris’ neck collecting sweat and her showering. Intimate as these moments are, the represent the greater binary of erotic charges: absence as sweat from heat, and over-proximity as being drenched by water. The location of the film along the docks surrounded by water at all times (Iris takes a boat back and forth between work and home), makes the ocean itself, an all encompassing erotic symbol, one the film seldom shows directly. But as I said at the start of this review, there are two things that make the film worth watching, and the other, and the greater (which the film wouldn’t be worth watching without) is the haunting music of Beth Gibbons. Gibbons trembling falsetto and sexy alternately melodic, fragile, and carnivalesque pianos fill in much of the vulnerable tone of the film left ambiguously open by the numerous simple static shots. I hadn’t heard of nor read the book “Hotel Iris” that the film is based on because it hasn’t been translated into English yet. This may not be especially pertinent as Bertrand told an audience she “wasn’t sure if [she] understood the book”. Fellow Japanese author Kenzaburō Ōe has said of the novel's author, “Yoko Ogawa is able to give expression to the most subtle workings of human psychology in prose that is gentle yet penetrating.” Whether she was conscious of the films intricacies or not, some things are invariably lost in translation from one culture to another. For instance, in Japan the ring finger is also called "The medicine finger", as Bhaisajyaguru, the Medicine Buddha, uses his right ring finger for healing. Many ancient cultures around the world in fact, believe the finger to have magical "healing" power, which is one of the reasons we still use it in marriages today. Likewise the name Iris is both a flower and the place where the eye becomes an orifice; that which lets light out and in. Though the ending could be described as a duex ex machina, I think the literal abyss Iris crosses into, is that unknowable risk in broaching any new relationship, and uncertain emotional terrain that everyone takes. A the end of "The Ring Finger", the internal is made manifest visually as a blinding and all consuming light. Too much light for Iris to see through directly.

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